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Music & Me – Catherine Ryan Howard

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Songbook

Derek Flynn

What are your earliest musical memories?

I was a dedicated disco-dancer when I was a child (um, yes – Munster Disco-Dancing Champion Under 8 Category 1991, thanks for asking) so pop music was a huge part of my childhood. The earliest music I remember was Madonna and Michael Jackson. I did actually think that Madonna and MJ were the only pop-stars in the world; it was a while before I realised there were other people at it too! My mum had a cassette tape from aerobics or something that had ‘La Isla Bonita’ on it, so I was obsessed with that. And my favourite MJ song then is still my favourite MJ song now: ‘Dirty Diana’. (And, since I know you’re dying to know, my winning dance routine was to that musical classic, ‘Do The Bartman’. Which was actually written by Michael Jackson, fun fact!)

Who or what were your musical influences growing up and why?

Well, I wasn’t very musical in the sense that music was only ever something I listened to while I bopped happily around my bedroom, so I’m not sure “influences” is the right word… But I was obsessed with Take That, then Metallica (I pretended to like them because of a boyfriend who did, and then I actually started liking them – Load is one of my favourite albums of all time) and then I graduated to the likes of John Mayer, Damien Rice and other ‘Sad Men’ as an old boss of mine used to call my choice of office music.

Does music influence your writing?

Again, I think influence is a strong word…

Do you listen to music while writing, editing, etc.?

…but I do listen to music while writing. Usually the first draft is done in silence because I get distracted, and I can’t really listen to anything with lyrics. Movie soundtracks are ideal and I think if you’re writing crime or psychological thrillers, you can’t go wrong with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I have their soundtracks to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and The Social Network on constant repeat while I’m writing. I also really like Danny Elfman’s OST for The Girl on the Train movie.

Is there one particular novel or piece of writing you wrote that was directly influenced by a piece of music?

I was definitely inspired by the U2 song ‘Love is Blindness’ while writing Distress Signals. There is something about that song that just builds and builds to a hugely dramatic/emotional ending, like a good plot should. There’s also a performance of it from Sydney, Australia back in 1993’s Zoo TV tour that is just incredible. Adam Clayton was in a dark place with his addiction at the time, and had pulled out of the concert for the first time ever the night before because he was just too hungover to play. The band didn’t know what was going to happen next, if maybe it was all over, that this would be their last night performing together. Bono has said in interviews that that’s what was going through his mind at the time, adding an extra layer of emotion to the concert. In ‘Love is Blindness’ especially, I think you can actually hear that pain in his performance. And there is a stunning solo from The Edge. It’s an incredible song. (And because I listened to it so much, I ended up calling the first part of Distress Signals after it!)


What music are you listening to at the moment?

John Mayer’s new album, which is being released in ‘waves’ (four songs at a time). Don’t ask…

Musically, what’s your guilty pleasure (or is there such a thing)?

See previous answer – but I don’t feel guilty about it at ALL!


Catherine’s debut thriller, Distress Signals, is out now in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand (Corvus/Atlantic) and the USA (Blackstone). The Irish Times called Distress Signals “a highly confident and accomplished debut novel, impeccably sustained, with not a false note”. It has been optioned for television by Jet Stone Media and been shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the 2016 Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards. Catherine is currently working on her second thriller and studying for a BA in English Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

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